In Consultation

In Consultation

The Heart Speaks: Does Love Have a Role in Psychotherapy?

By Patrick Dougherty

May/June 2011

Q: I feel something is missing from my work with my clients—some level of deep connection. How can I engage myself more fully with clients while maintaining professional boundaries?

A: Many years ago, the Chinese qigong master I study with was thinking about becoming a psychotherapist so he could help people here in the United States. But when someone told him that it was considered inappropriate for therapists to love their clients, he was incredulous. “Patrick, how can you help your clients if you don’t love them? Don’t you know that love is the most powerful healing force in the universe?”

I thought his comment sweet and slightly odd; perhaps it had something to do with the difficulty of a nonnative speaker’s struggle with our language. Mostly, I wrote it off as naïve. As I spent more time as his student, however, I gradually learned that what he was talking about wasn’t the personal love we feel for a spouse or our children, but love as a heart energy within all of us that’s far more spacious, selfless, and unqualified. Understanding and experiencing this kind of love has fundamentally changed the way I practice psychotherapy.

Naomi came to therapy not knowing exactly what was wrong with her. In fact, her life was apparently going well: her marriage was basically happy, her career was humming along, though it wasn’t very exciting, and her last child was about to graduate from college, allowing her a coveted…

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